Tag Archives: food supply

5.5 Million Cases of Norovirus are Spread Via Food Each Year

By Kim Smiley

Norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships may make exciting headlines, but the reality is that only one percent of norovirus outbreaks occur on the high seas.  About 20 million people in the US are sickened by noroviruses in the US each year and one of the most common transmission paths is via food.  Food-borne norovirus is estimated to be responsible for 5.5 million cases of norovirus annually in the US.

A Cause Map, a visual method for performing a root cause analysis, can be used to analyze this issue.  The first step in the Cause Mapping process is to determine how an issue impacts the overall goals and then the Cause Map is built by asking “why” questions to visually lay out the cause-and-effect relationships.  In this example, we’ll focus on the safety goal since it is clearly impacted by 5.5 million cases of norovirus transmitted via food.

So why are people getting norovirus from food?  This is happening because they are consuming contaminated food, predominantly at restaurants or catered events.  The food becomes contaminated when a food worker’s hands are contaminated by norovirus and they touch food, particularly food that is ready to serve and won’t be cooked prior to consumption.  (Disclaimer: You may want to stop reading here if you are eating or thinking about going to out to eat soon.)

For those unfamiliar with the illness, norovirus is basically a gastrointestinal nightmare that can cause the human body to do very messy things.  If a food service worker is ill, the virus can get on their hands, especially after using the bathroom.  According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, the transmission of food-borne norovirus is “primarily via the fecal-oral route.”  And that is more than enough said about that.

It is also worth asking why food workers are at work if they are under the weather.  In the US, few food service workers get paid sick leave so they may show up at work sick because they are concerned about the loss of income and the impact on their jobs.  It’s also important to ensure that workers understand the importance of good hygiene and have access to both water and soap and time to effectively wash their hands.

The final step in the Cause Mapping process is to develop solutions to reduce the risk of the problem recurring.  The solutions to this problem are both simple in concept and difficult to effectively implement.  Ideally, food workers should stay home when they are ill and for at least 48 hours afterwards, but this is much easier said than done for many people.  Food workers should also wash their hands after using the bathroom and before handling any food, but it can be difficult to enforce the policy because employers and managers aren’t (and shouldn’t be) closely monitoring what happens during bathroom breaks.

To view a high level Cause Map of this issue, click on “Download PDF” above.

Contaminated Cantaloupes Cause Deaths

By Kim Smiley

The number of food recalls in the news lately is enough to make you lose your appetite.

Let’s start by focusing on just one of the recent recalls.  Listeria from contaminated cantaloupe has caused at least 15 deaths and has sickened more than 80 across the USA.  Tests have traced the listeria back to a single farm in Colorado, but the source has not yet been identified.

Listeria is a common, but potentially deadly bacteria that can be found in soil, water, decaying plant matter and manure so the potential sources are numerous.  Another important piece of information is that Listeria can be difficult to eliminate once it has spread to distribution and processing facilities because it grows well at low temperatures, unlike most bacteria.  Listeria can continue to grow in refrigerated areas where fruit maybe stored or processed.

Finding the source of a listeria outbreak can also be difficult because it can take up to two months for an individual to become sick.  Adding to the complexity of identifying what food is causing an outbreak of listeria is the wide variety of foods that can become contaminated.  Listeria can be found in meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables.

Even once the source of contamination has been identified, it can be difficult to effectively remove the item from the food supply.  In this example, the sheer number of cantaloupes involved as well as a long supply chain made it difficult to remove all contaminated melons.  The farm recalled their entire 2011 cantaloupe crop which was more than 300,000 cases distributed from the end of July to mid-September.  The cantaloupes were shipped to 25 states and sold through many different retailers.

A recent article by CBS stated that the average cantaloupe makes four or five stops on the way to the super market shelves.  Typical cantaloupes will go to a packing house for cleaning and packing, a distributors, a retail distribution center and finally a grocery store before they make it to the consumer.   This makes it very difficult to identify where a food might have been contaminated.

Click on “Download PDF’ above to view a high level Cause Map of this issue.  A Cause Map is an intuitive form of root cause analysis that visually lays out the causes that contribute to an issue.